By Powerscourt on 24/08/2020
Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 24 August 2020
President Trump last night doubled down on the war against coronavirus as he announced that the US Food & Drug Administration has fast-tracked the approval in the US of the use of blood plasma from recovered coronavirus patients as a therapy. The blood plasma has shown promise but its efficacy is still controversial.
President Trump’s moves show the extent to which successful vaccines and treatments have become the ultimate prize for governments and science and drug development has been politicised by the crisis.
The President, in a news briefing, painted the decision as the output of his administration’s attempts to cut red tape and speed up drug approvals. Less than 24 hours earlier, he had said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the body which oversees drug approvals in the US, had been deliberately holding up the therapies as it was part of a “deep state” conspiracy.
According to several reports, President Trump is separately in negotiations to bypass traditional rules on drug approvals to ensure that the experimental coronavirus vaccine in development by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, could be approved more quickly in the US.
The administration is exploring the possibility of the FDA providing “emergency use authorisation” (EUA) in October to the experimental vaccine. The AstraZeneca study has enrolled 10,000 volunteers, whereas the US government’s scientific agencies have said that a vaccine would need to have been studied in 30,000 people to pass the threshold for authorisation. AstraZeneca is also conducting a larger study with 30,000 volunteers, but the results from this study will not be ready until later. It isn’t clear how the President could force the FDA – an independent agency led by scientists – to Implement a waiver of these requirements.
The US President is under massive pressure to deliver some progress against the virus ahead of the November 3 elections. At last week’s Democratic National Convention, a parade of high profile speakers including the Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his nominated Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, and President Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, lined up to lambast Trump for his handling of the virus. Over 170,000 Americans have died from coronavirus: the highest death toll in the world. The Republican National Convention starts today.
Not to be outdone by the Americans, the Chinese government said on Sunday it had been administering a coronavirus vaccine candidate to key workers. Zheng Zhongei, the head of the National Health Commission’s science and technology centre, told state media organisation CCTV the government had authorised “emergency use” of a vaccine for workers including health workers and border officials. The official didn’t disclose which of the 170 vaccine candidates being trialled around the world was being given.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Russia is surprised with the lack of global interest in its coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, which it launched earlier this month. An online survey of 3,040 Russian doctors found only 24pc would use it on their patients while trade unions for doctors and teachers expressed scepticism about the vaccine.
The Wall Street Journal today reports on a trend which is gathering pace around the world. Companies which had mandated that their staff be back at desks by early September are now doing U-turns on those plans.
A survey of 15 of the largest US companies employing 2.6 million people showed that nearly 60% had postponed the return to work due to continuing fears about coronavirus. With continuing fears around the impact of school reopening and the risk of a resurgence in the autumn, may companies are now adjusting these timetables.
Asian markets were up Monday morning on news of the accelerated approval of blood plasma and optimism about further positive developments for pharmaceuticals.
WHAT ARE COMPANIES SAYING?
In its half year results out today, the FTSE 100 distribution and services group announced it was reinstating its dividend, paying 15.8p per share up 1.9% on 2019. This follows the cancellation of the dividend in April, following 27 years of unbroken dividend growth. The company also reported that operating profit was up 12.6% compared to the same period last year, with revenue up 7% to £4.84 billion. CEO Frank van Zanten said “the fundamental aspects of our business model remain attractive with the Group’s strong cash generation allowing us to maintain Bunzl’s long track record of dividend growth and continue our compounding strategy of consolidating the Group’s fragmented markets through focused acquisitions.”
Retail & Consumer
J D Wetherspoon
In a trading update, the UK pub owner said that 844 of its pubs were now open out of a total 873, including a number in airports and stations. The company credited the government eat out to help out scheme as having sparked a “rapid acceleration” in sales recently. The company also called for the recent change to on-trade and off-trade tax rates to be maintained in the long term, to support “tax equality” between pubs/restaurants and supermarkets. In the financial position section of the statement, the company proposed entering “discussions with its lenders regarding waivers for the current financial year, in due course.” The outlook statement is a quote from Chairman Tim Martin, which challenges the effectiveness of a full lockdown and proposes the adoption of the Swedish approach.
Artificial intelligence firm Faculty Science has been chosen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to use machine learning to forecast the business impact of coronavirus. The contract is worth £120,000 and will see Faculty working directly alongside BEIS for the next three to six months. The company recently won a contract with the ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to monitor the public’s social media to understand how they were responding to the pandemic. The company has won at least 10 government contracts in the last two years.
Financials & Real Estate
The financial services group said in its interim trading update that Covid-19 continues to have an “unprecedented impact” on the business, with impacts on economic activity and growth forecasts negatively affecting new business sales volumes. Sales remain below prior year levels despite the easing of lockdown. The company highlighted that is solvency capital remained strong, with a ratio of 182% across the group in June 2020. Earnings are also expected to be impacted at HY, down between 62-72%.
IN THE NEWS
Global dividends suffer worst quarterly fall since 2009 – Financial Times
Office owners face millions in extra costs to ‘Covid-proof’ buildings – Financial Times
Coronavirus: Teachers spread virus more than their pupils – The Times